Back in November, Iowa voters sent a strong message of support for the right to keep and bear arms by enshrining it into the state constitution in overwhelming numbers. Not only does the amendment explicitly protect gun ownership, it instructs courts in the state to view any gun control laws through a “strict scrutiny” lens; a measure that requires regulations to be narrowly tailored to achieve a governmental interest.
Activists with the Iowa chapter of March For Our Lives say the new amendment has had an impact on their legislative agenda this year, but they’ve settled on a few restrictions that they believe can pass constitutional muster.
“Strict scrutiny will endanger any hopes of introducing common-sense gun policy in the state of Iowa,” [Waverly] Zhao said. “Additionally, the vague and overbroad wording of the legislation leaves the definitions of terms like ‘arms’ and ‘restrictions’ up to broad interpretations, which may serve to undermine the few current gun regulation policies in Iowa.”
But the gun safety advocates said there are still measures state legislators can pass they argue could help stop gun violence in Iowa. In its 2023 legislative agenda, March for Our Lives recommended Iowa legislators pass a mandatory three-day waiting period, universal background checks and mandatory reporting of lost or stolen firearms.
The strict scrutiny amendment language was approved by almost 2/3rds of the state’s voters, so Zhao should consider the possibility that those “common sense” policies she wants to see in place don’t make much sense to most of her neighbors. That’s the real roadblock to the type of anti-gun policies that MFOL wants to put in place; the will of the people. The new constitutional amendment is simply an expression of that will, as is their opposition to any new measures that try to criminalize lawful gun ownership or burden the lawful exercise of that right in any way.
Esha Bolar, an 18-year-old high school senior from Johnston and co-state director for the advocacy group, said March for Our Lives had to take a step back from some of its more “ambitious” policy goals, like police demilitarization, given the new amendment and conservative majorities in both chambers of the Iowa Legislature.
“Now I don’t think that’s possible, amongst a lot of other kinds of gun violence prevention policy that we’ve researched in the past,” Bolar said. “But we know that with these three priorities we can see some kind of change happening.”
Bolar said she believes all three of the recommended policies will be able to hold up to any strict scrutiny challenges. Other states have implemented a three-day waiting period and universal background checks for acquiring firearms, which have survived court challenges finding they did not violate Second Amendment rights from the U.S. Constitution. However, new state constitutional amendment offers protections beyond the Second Amendment, which does not hold laws to the strict scrutiny test.
Let’s say for the sake of argument that the courts would uphold each and every one of MFOL’s legislative goals for the year. That doesn’t make them any more likely to be enacted into law. Forget strict scrutiny for a second; these ideas don’t pass the smell test for most Iowans or their elected representatives.
Any attempt to restrict the rights of law-abiding residents, or to try to make the state a safer place by criminalizing a constitutionally-protected right isn’t likely to make it out of committee in Iowa. These young anti-civil rights activists may be hoping to put some new infringements in place, but they’re in for a long wait… period.